Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Flashback Meals: The Veggie Melt (1970-1984)

If you ate in a restaurant in the 1970s through mid 80s, especially one with ferns, exposed brick walls or hanging faux-Tiffany lamps, chances are you enjoyed a Veggie Melt. This classic from the days of simpler menus, an open-faced sandwich of sauteed vegetables topped with melted cheese, epitomizes the nascent 70s trend towards plant-based cuisine for either health or ethical/spiritual interests. Pretty damn simple but still satisfying, the Vegetable Melt was most often the token meat-free dish on many menus but sometimes gussied up in natural foods restaurants; with the elan characteristic of the Disco Era, vegetarian chefs would adorn the humble sandwiches with all manner of new-fangled ingredients, such as dried cranberries, raw sunflower seeds, clover and alfalfa sprouts, even slices of avocado, a fruit still deemed quasi-exotic by some Americans in the early 70s.

Cafe Drake HRV has memories of digging in, knife and fork, to a bubbling discus of melted Jack cheese atop mushrooms and peppers and spinach, all nestled on buttery, toasted bread. Our version of the Veggie Melt thoroughly honors the original without being slavish, hence our updated Cuban flavor twist and fried banana garnish. Honestly, you won't regret making this recipe as it's foolproof, fast, economical and utterly delicious. Vegans can obtain satisfying results with any of the many dairy-free cheeses suitable for melting.

It starts with some sauteed veggies, any that you like, in your preferred combination. Although spinach and mushrooms are requisite for true retro cred. Yes, we said SAUTEED veggies. Steaming was popular but we didn't roast vegetables in the 70s.

Bread of choice is toasted and then slapped with mayo in the second step.

Cafe Drake HRV's Veggie Melt borrows loosely some Latin American flavors, hence our decision to top it with a fried banana. A very ripe plantain would be ideal but the one we bought was young and green. Just like we used to be.

Then the sauteed vegetables get draped across the mayo-slicked toasted bread.

After a minute under a hot broiler the cheese is perfectly melted. We then topped the sandwich with quartered grape tomatoes and crushed red chilies, another concession to more contemporary tastes.

A pan-fried banana and heaps of chopped parsley, cilantro and garden-fresh lovage complete the dish.

Begin by heating coconut oil (again, this is a slightly revisionist version of the 70s Veggie Melt and you should use vegetable oil if you wanna keep it Truly Old Skool) in a large skillet until hot. Add any veggies you enjoy stir-fried; the amount will depend on how many open-face sandwiches you're preparing. Cafe Drake HRV used an orange bell pepper, some sliced Cremini mushrooms, a red onion and, in the last two minutes of cooking, several handfuls of spinach leaves. Do add some crushed garlic to the stir-fry. We seasoned ours with a few dashes of ground cumin, smoked paprika and oregano. Cook until the vegetables are tender and remove them to a bowl. Season now to taste with salt and black pepper.

Return the skillet to the stove, no need to clean it, and add a bit more oil. Fry over medium-low heat some bananas, sliced horizontally in to halves. Count on 2 minutes per side to achieve a soft, slightly caramelized texture and flavor.

Toast bread, any kind of bread until just crisp. Smear one side of each slice with mayonnaise. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and divide the sauteed veggies among each. Now top with plenty of grated Monterrey Jack and/or Colby Cheddar cheeses. Pop under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbling, no more than a couple of minutes.

Garnish each slice of bread, now transformed in to a Veggie Melt, with chopped tomatoes, crushed red chilies, parsley, cilantro and one fried banana.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Our Daffodils Make Us Smile

Thai-Inspired Rice Noodles You Can Make in Minutes!

When working with rice noodles always be ready to proceed with the recipe soon after the noodles are drained and rinsed in cold water. if left to sit too long they become sticky and almost impossible to separate.

No claims of authenticity here - far from it - but Cafe Drake HRV's quickly assembled sauce and noodle add-ins suggests the flavor profiles of Thailand in particular.

This is another recipe based on using what you have at home, before your next food shopping trip. It's a good bet most of us can find an onion in the house at any time. Shallots are an ideal swap out.

We used sliced serranos because, again, that's what we had around. Thai or Indian green chilies will add more complexity to the dish.

We couldn't find a single jar of roasted peanuts on the pantry but we did have a few of the in-shell variety. Not recommended though unless you have the patience for shelling and rubbing off the skins.

First Things First: A screaming hot pan with only a modicum of oil. When the oil is almost smoking, add the sliced red onions or shallots. Like all Asian stir-fry dishes, this one depends on rapid cooking at very high temperatures for as little time as possible.

In go the rinsed and drained rice noodles. We used the slightly wider variety but you could use the fat or skinny rice noodles, doesn't matter. In a pinch you might try substituting plain linguine noodles but it's not recommended.

And the sauce hits the pan.

A last-minute addition of the green chilies and plenty of chopped cilantro is essential to balancing the sweet/sour noodles with fresh, crisp flavors and texture.

To create a true entree, complete the noodles with a form of protein, such as a couple of fried eggs, some fried or roasted tofu, 1/2 lb. or so of sauteed shrimp. We simply topped ours with a piece of broiled salmon that cooked perfectly in 6 minutes, the amount of time it took us to fry the noodles!

The easiest and most efficient method when preparing these noodles is to assemble the sauce in the beginning. Mix together in a bowl and then set aside: 1/4 cup tomato paste, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce, 3 T. lime juice, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 t. chili paste (the kind with garlic, found in all supermarkets in the Asian foods aisle) and 1-2 T. grated ginger.

Cook 8-10 oz. dried rice noodles according to the package instructions. This generally entails bringing water to a boil and then soaking the noodles for a few minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse very well under cold running water.

Moving with haste but without stress, heat 1 T. coconut oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat. When the oil is hot toss in 1 thinly sliced red onion or 2 very large shallots. Stir fry with vigor for 2 minutes and then add the rinsed and drained rice noodles. Stir once and pour in all of the sauce. Stir to coat the noodles very well and heat through. Cook for one more minute and then add 2-4 sliced hot green chilies and 3/4 cup minced cilantro. Stir some more to combine and remove from heat.

Serve hot or warm, topped with anything you like. Or not. DO however garnish the noodles with up to 3/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts.

Oven-Baked Swiss Chard & Blackened Onion Frittata

The richness of the fried onions combines beautifully with the grassy notes of Swiss Chard in our oven-baked frittata. Cooking it entirely in the oven means no messy mistakes when flipping the frittata and ensures a prefect texture.

A fabulous spring summer of frittata, chopped salad with radish and clover sprouts, an aged cheese and raisin-walnut bread.

Frittatas are ideal picnic fare as they taste just as great at room temperature. Above, a leftover lunch of frittata, toasted raisin-walnut bread and a 3-Minute Salad of chopped cabbage, grape tomatoes, green olives and cheese.

First, begin preheating the oven to 350 degrees F. while you oil or butter a shallow casserole dish or oven-proof skillet. Rinse and cut in to slivers 6-8 large leaves of Swiss chard. The stems should be finely chopped while the leaves can be left in larger pieces. Set those aside while you heat 2 T. olive oil in a large skillet.

Add to the skillet 1 diced onion (medium or small sized) and 1 clove of minced garlic. Cook gently over a low flame for about 15 minutes or until the onion is golden-brown to dark-brown. Stir often to prevent burning. Now throw the chard in the skillet and cover the pan. Cook, tossing now and then until the chard is soft, no longer than 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In a mixing bowl beat 5 cage-free eggs with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 t. salt  and a couple of dashes of ground nutmeg. Stir in the cooled chard and onions along with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and transfer all to the prepared baking dish or ovenproof skillet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, just until the frittata is set and beginning to brown on top. Check after 20 minutes; depending on your oven and the type of cooking vessel used, the frittata may be done already. Please don't overcook it.

Cut in to squares or wedges or any shape desired and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Return to Kingston Point Dog Park

A trip to the local dog run, scenically situated on the Kingston Point waterfront, is always a highlight of Arabella Page's weekends.

Happy Dog

That's our little baby.

Each new visitor to the dog run must be cordially welcomed.

An estuary behind the dog park.

On the Waterfront.

To the Lighthouse. The Kingston Point lighthouse that is.

Ah, sweet Spring has finally arrived.

A new favorite pic of ours.

Can you guess what scent Arabella sniffed in the air? That of a family BBQ just down the beach.

Arabella ponders taking a swim in the river.

A moment of quiet reflection.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Don't Forget To Check Out the Market Specials!

One of the best things about our local grocery store, Adams' Fairacre Farms, besides the fresh and often local produce, is the sprawling cheese department's selection of weekly specials. Small slices of stellar cheese are available at half, sometimes a quarter, of their regular price, a clever technique to entice new customers and introduce less familiar products. Cafe Drake HRV loved this week the Valtellina Casera, such a deep flavored, dry aged cheese that one thin slice was enough to last for three after-dinner dessert snacks!

At a price even we can afford! Now, if the hand-foraged ramps in the produce department were just less than $15/lb. we'd have nothing to complain about.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dressing Up Take Out Dinners

Chinese take-out doesn't have to be a dreary last resort meal, or even an unhealthy or unattractive choice for the exhausted cook. At Cafe Drake HRV we order the lighter, less oily menu items like Steamed Bean Curd with Broccoli in Garlic Sauce and Vegetable Dumplings (steamed not fried, thank you very much).

Freshness and more complex flavors are the benefits of dressing your take out with items like pea shoots snipped from the kitchen window, slivered scallions from the fridge and homemade toasted chili oil. Learn how to make your own chili oil HERE in the Cafe Drake HRV archives.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another Wonderful Weekend with J&B

Setting the Scene for a Festive Spring Dinner

Arabella Eagerly Awaits the Arrival of Two of Her Favorite Guests

" When are they gonna get here already??"

Daffodils Are The Earliest Arrivals to the Cafe Drake HRV Garden. And Promptly Snipped.

Lloyd, Jen and Ben Confer Over the Glow of a Tablet.

Hot Off the Grill: Masala Dill Shrimp, Ghee-Slathered Flatbreads and Assorted Vegetables.

All The Ingredients for a Perfect Meal: Bubbly, Flowers, Candlelight and Dear Friends. Good Food doesn't hurt either and tonight's menu included an Indian Mixed Grill (Shrimp, Veggies and Bread), Sweet/Sour Gujarati Dal, Vegetable and Cashew Biryani, Churri (spiced yogurt and buttermilk), Cabbage Salad, Homemade Lime Pickles and Hari (mint and coriander) Chutney.

Ben Supplied The Prettiest Birthday Cake We've Ever Seen to Celebrate Jen's New Year.

The Birthday Girl Does the Honors!

The Falls in nearby Downtown Woodstock, where we also savored a scrumptious brunch at Shindig.

Lots of Leftover Biryani.